Section: Moadim   Category: Elul-Tishrei
Parshas Ki Seitzei: Elul, True Love vs. Tough Love

We can all picture the scene. A child has his eyes dead-set on something; say, a cookie, for example. The problem for him is that it is stationed too far for his reach. So he drags over a chair to aid him in reaching the item. Still too far, though. Maybe a telephone book or two might do the job. Yes, that is enough for him to touch the jar and dislodge it slowly off the shelf. But standing afar, we all know what’s coming. He repeatedly knocks at the glass jar and just as he is about to catch the falling jar and get to his cookie, the telephone book slips and he loses his balance, causing the jar to come crashing to the ground and break in a thousand pieces, sending cookies all over the floor and shards of glass in his knees and feet. What a shame – he really “loved” that cookie, but by trying to circumvent the conventional manner of getting a cookie – i.e. asking an adult – he acted inappropriately and caused much harm to himself. 

This is the story that is introduced to us at the beginning of the parsha. A man in war, clearly not his ideal battlefield, is caught up with his yetzer hara and a woman he claims he “loves”. The picture set for him is that there is nothing else in the world at that moment except for settling his desires. The Torah cannot tell the individual not to pursue it because he is caught up in that moment, alone. Instead, the Torah allows the individual to pursue the action he is seeking (with Halachic pre-conditions, beyond the scope of this article and writer) and then stands aside, so to speak, to watch the ramifications of those actions. “Oh, yes, you want a Yefas To’ar. Go ahead, have it. Be aware, though, that when one attempts to reach for something out of their realm of possible and permissible options, there is a fallout that goes with it. Family squabbles, marital discord, children leaving the derech and a life turned over and ripped asunder. It is your choice.”

The lessons of this inyan are plenty, but I would like to point out a message we can derive, albeit more subtle. The parsha of Yefas Toar illustrates what happens to love that is misguided and misdirected. What we need to develop is our true love, that of Ahavas Hashem, and this is specifically poignant for these days of Elul and Tishrei, referred to Yemei Harachamim V’harotzon. For while many of us put much effort into Yiras Hashem – being careful about mitzvah observance, keeping away from bad behavior, davening differently and better, etc., focusing on Yirah alone is a problem for two reasons.  

First, it is only half way up the ladder of avodah. The Ohr Hachaim explains that when the Torah says, “Mah Hashem Elokecha Shoel Meyimach Ki im Li’yirah”, it means to say that since Ahavas Hashem is the ultimate avoda but the more difficult one to master, Hashem “only” asks for Yirah, but to be used as a stepping stone to obtain Ahava. Once we mastered Ahava, we will realize that Yirah was small in comparison. That is one reason yirah alone is insufficient.
Secondly, we cannot have one battle plan in our arsenal. Fear alone cannot spare a person from aveira because there are times where there is no fear, as we see from this parsha of Yefas Toar. We can fight fear with fear but we must also fight ahava with ahava. We can combat the yetzer hara in his own snare, provided we have worked toward building that option. There is a reason that only Elul and Tishrei evokes a certain fear in us, save for a few select days spread out in the year. Elul itself cries out “Ani ledodi v’dodi li” which tells us to develop a loving relationship with Hashem, specifically in these days. That is why Succos, z’man simchaseinu, follows the awe of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, teaching us that we are to develop both those precious tools of avoda.

When we will declare Hashem to be the Ultimate King of the World, we can only do so if we are in fear and awe of Him and in love with His kindness. That way, our mouths and minds will be guided toward speaking His glory and asking forgiveness for the times we let Him down.  

If misguided ahava is that destructive, imagine what channeling it properly can affect in us!